Saturday 24 February 2018

O'Neill: We're not going to wipe the floor with anyone

Martin O’Neill says tonight’s game is a big test. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Martin O’Neill says tonight’s game is a big test. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Daniel McDonnel

Martin O'Neill believes the reaction to Thursday night's struggle against Georgia has overlooked the fact that Ireland won the game but the Derryman accepts that his side have fallen below the levels they reached at Euro 2016.

The Ireland boss wants his squad to use tonight's qualifier with Moldova as the launchpad to regain momentum and the unavailability of his France stars Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick has complicated his plans for the first ever meeting with the former Russian state.

Seamus Coleman's heroics saved face at the Aviva Stadium with his decisive contribution after the interval getting Ireland off the hook following a turgid opening 45 minutes. O'Neill concedes it was below par, but he is keen to leave that game in the past and point to the summer for inspiration.

"I think what's lost in this here is that we actually won the game," said the 64-year-old yesterday ahead of the Irish training session at the Stadionul Zimbru in the Moldovan capital Chisinau.

"We're not the type of team that is going to wipe the floor with people. We have to fight for everything. We know that ourselves and tomorrow night will be a big test again for us."

Moldova have conceded seven goals without scoring in their opening two matches and lost every home match in a dreadful Euro 2016 campaign so, on paper, they are an inferior outfit to the Georgians.

But O'Neill disagreed with the suggestion that Ireland are vulnerable for this type of test because they thrive as underdogs. Instead, he pointed to a drop-off in their overall application.

"It's not a case that we raise ourselves against the best opposition," he countered.

"Everybody goes through these periods. Portugal won the competition in the summer and then went out and lost to Switzerland. These things happen.

"We have to try to raise ourselves again for this. It's a big game for us and obviously the result is the most important thing

"We can play better, we know that - we did this in France. It's only a couple of months ago since we played brilliantly against Sweden and brilliantly against Italy, beating Italy - and we should have beaten Sweden in the game.

"For a long period, we had France, you would have to say they were extremely concerned about us as a team that went on to the final in their own stadium. Those are just a couple of months ago. We have played two games in this [World Cup campaign]: we have gone to Serbia and drawn against Serbia, a top-class side, and we haven't played very well at home in a game and that can happen."

O'Neill confirmed that Glenn Whelan will come into his side and Wes Hoolahan is also a strong contender to figure; he has started just two competitive away games in his Irish career but Brady's absence leaves the visitors short of midfield creativity. James McCarthy will also be needed with O'Neill conceding that, in an ideal world, he would have liked to take the Everton player off before the end of Thursday's match - his first outing since August - but Brady's concussion thwarted that plan.

O'Neill argued that Moldova 'played strongly' in periods of their 3-0 loss to Serbia at tonight's match venue and his captain, Coleman, pointed out that they pressed well. However, he acknowledged that Ireland were the favourites.

"Ideally, you want to win comfortably but it's not always the case," said the Donegal man. "We've got to earn that right to play. We have a good group of lads, a group of lads who are together and for 90 minutes - whether it's going good or bad - they will be in the game."

The Everton man was praised by O'Neill for meeting the required standards in the first leg of this October double-header with the manager satisfied that he has identified the right man to wear the armband. "Seamus has taken up the mantle of captaincy as if he was born to it," said O'Neill, "He's a quiet enough lad in many aspects but he's been terrific on the pitch."

It would be a worry, though, if Ireland again had to call on a full-back to conquer modest opposition.

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